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Rutgers looks to extend winning streak in Philadelphia

Sophomore right back Niel Guzman and the Rutgers back line looks to contain Penn like they did Saturday against Michigan. – Photo by Edwin Gano

When a chance to do something new presents itself, a team must take advantage.

The Rutgers men’s soccer team looks to take advantage of an opportunity to extend its current winning streak to three games for the first time this season when it travels to the City of Brotherly Love to face Penn Tuesday afternoon.

The current winning streak for the Scarlet Knights (6-4-1, 2-3-0) began last week in their latest midweek matchup with an Ivy League program. The Knights defeated Yale 5-2 at Yurcak Field, conceding both goals when they had a three-goal cushion to work with.

The Bulldogs presented little danger in turning the result around, but the relaxed way in which Rutgers defended with a big lead raised some red flags for the coaching staff and it let the players on the field know.

Aware that letting up for even a second on the pitch is unacceptable, the Knights aspire to improve the way they approach the game mentally.

“I think that’s really hard to do when you go up by more than a few goals,” said senior midfielder Mitchell Taintor on remaining completely focused with a large lead. “Against any team, I think you’re gonna get a little complacent (with a lead). That’s just a mental aspect of the game we all have to work on and hopefully we go up a few goals against Penn and keep our intensity and focus.”

Rutgers did a complete a 180-degree turn in its latest win, remaining locked in for all 93 minutes of its 1-0 extra-time win against Big Ten leader Michigan last Saturday in Ann Arbor.

Spending a majority of the match in their defensive third, the Knights were able to hold off a potent Wolverine attack for their third clean sheet of the season.

Spending more time working on defensive processes in training is beginning to pay off on the pitch.

“Lately in practices, we’ve been focusing on defending so I think this’ll help us in the future to get good chemistry in the back four,” said sophomore right back Niel Guzman. “This game was hard because the outside mids (for Michigan) were one of the best in the Big Ten, so we didn’t really have much time on the ball. … The coaches did really well preparing us in practice for this game.”

With the most momentum it has had all season pushing the team forward, the last thing Rutgers wants is to lose a match it is heavily favored to win.

While the Quakers have historically dominated the series — they own an 8-6-0 record against the Knights — recent history remains on the Knights' side.

The latest meeting between Rutgers and the Quakers took place nearly a year ago to the day. The Knights hosted Penn in Piscataway on Oct. 14 and defeated their visitors, 4-1

Sophomore forward Jason Wright, who currently leads the Big Ten in goals (9) after scoring six times in his past four outings, led Rutgers with a brace last October.

Hoping to return to winning ways, the Quakers (2-6-1, 1-1-0) host the Knights in the best form they’ve been in all season.

Penn was held scoreless in five of its first six games, but have factored in its last three games, including its two wins over Saint Joseph (3-0) and Cornell (2-0).

Rutgers must keep its feet on the ground and remain humble against the opposition in order to avoid a shock defeat in a pivotal moment in the year.

“The thing you’re worrying about is having a letdown,” said head coach Dan Donigan. “You’re coming off a great win on the road against a very good team and now you’re facing an out-of-conference game, a midweek game … the last thing you want now is to have a hiccup or a bump in the road. So we just gotta keep our focus and go into this game the same way we went into the Michigan game … and take care of business.”

Donigan will make sure his troops remain humble in the face of a less-threatening foe than they’re used to facing in the Big Ten.

While modest, the Knights remain confident and hungry for a win over a team that is as smart in possession as they are in the classroom.

“A hard working team,” Guzman said of what he’s expecting of Penn. “(They're) smart on the ball. Hopefully we get the same result against Yale … we’re at a point in the season where we’re rallying and we’re excited to go to the next game and keep the win streak going.”

For updates on the Rutgers men’s soccer team, follow @briannnnf and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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